OKLAHOMA CITY (Oklahoma) • The Boston Celtics' balanced attack have made them one of the hottest teams in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
Yet, on a night when all their five starters scored in double figures, it was reserve guard Marcus Smart's defence that secured a 112-111 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
He stole the ball from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with 5.8 seconds remaining, preventing the Thunder forward from taking a three-pointer that would have tied the game at 111-111.
"I didn't even want to give them an attempt to even get a shot up and a chance to tie the game or come close to it,'' Smart said of his game-high fourth steal on Sunday night.
Kemba Walker scored 27 points and hit a pair of clutch three pointers late in the game. Fellow Boston starters Jayson Tatum (26 points), Jaylen Brown (17), Daniel Theis (13) and Gordon Hayward (13) also contributed offensively.
"It's gonna be different every night," said Hayward. "We got so many different guys that can really go."
Smart could be a game-winner in his own right too.
"That's what he's there for, man. He brings a different type of energy to our ball club. We love him out there," Walker told NBC in an on-court interview at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
"Defensive Player of the Year, no question. With players like that, there's not many players making plays like that in clutch situations."
The Celtics (37-15) stretched their winning streak to seven games.
Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari scored 24 points each to lead the Thunder (32-21), who suffered just their second loss in 11 games. Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder added 22 points each, but the rest of the Thunder players combined for just 19 points.
"He made a great play. Give him credit," said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan of Smart, who also scored seven points in 22 minutes.
Boston's starters all finished in double figures, outscoring their Oklahoma City counterparts by 19.
"It was a broken floor situation, and if he doesn't get it, Shai is going to go by him, because he's lunging and he's out of position, but he made a great play and certainly took away the opportunity to at least cut it to one or tie."
Oklahoma City led 61-52 at half-time but Tatum scored 19 of his points in the second half.
The forward rued three turnovers down the stretch but had Smart to thank for bailing him out.
"Every time we need it," said Tatum, when asked how often Smart makes game-changing plays.
"He definitely saved us today."
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